descriptive color

Painting Workshop in Joshua Tree

I held my second landscape painting workshop of the year in Joshua Tree during April, a beautiful time to be in the desert. Rain has been pretty sparse the last couple of years, so the annual wildflower bloom was pretty much nil in both the high and low deserts, but the cacti and Joshua Tree are pretty dependable for producing some showy flowers. I've been to the JT area numerous times, but there are always new places to explore and paint. Once you become familiar with different areas, you start to notice differences in elevation, plant life, and color.

We began the workshop at Hidden Valley. I chose a few different locations throughout the high-desert section of the park that would provide different landscapes to paint - open vistas full of Joshua trees, areas packed with huge monzogranite boulders, and mountaintop views of the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea. Even the color of the soil varies from place to place. After painting all morning, the class would take a 3-4 hour lunch break to relax, heading back to hotels or into town for a sandwich. Though we didn't encounter too much wind or heat, the intense light really tires out your eyes, so a siesta is crucial. When we returned in the afternoon after a good rest, everyone was ready to jump back into painting. I began each afternoon session with another demo, same as the morning, and we would paint until sunset. The town of Joshua Tree is not that far off the beaten track (much more established than the sleepy town of Borrego Springs), so we would gather in the evening to eat at one of the good restaurants in town, chat about art, check email, or do a little grocery shopping for a BBQ.

During Day 2 we painted in Lost Horse Valley in the morning and spent the afternoon at Quail Springs. I had initially planned for us to paint at Key's View, a spectacular lookout with views over the Coachella Valley including the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea, and San Jacinto, but after we arrived the wind nearly blew us off the precipice. We enjoyed the view for a few minutes before we retreated back down to lower elevations to paint.

Our timing was perfect for nocturnes - the full moon was due to rise just a few days after the workshop ended, so during the workshop weekend a bright moon would already be in the night sky by the time it was dark. I had arrived in the desert a few days before the start of the workshop so I was able to paint a few nocturnes, but after painting all day during the class we just never had enough energy. There was quite an interest in trying to paint the moonlight though, so I'm going to be planning a nocturne-only workshop in the near future. Bookmark this page on my website for upcoming workshop news.

After a very productive workshop and informal critique, we headed out for dinner at Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, a must if you're going anywhere near Joshua Tree. They feature live music most nights and the food is awesome. The Santa Maria tri-tip BBQ is always hot, and the bowl of chili is amazing. A good evening to wrap up a solid couple of days painting in the Joshua Tree desert.

Eclectic L.A. - Four Perspectives

These paintings will be exhibited along with a few more of mine at American Legacy Fine Arts (ALFA) in Pasadena, CA, as part of the exhibit "Eclectic L.A. - Four Perspectives." One of the fascinating parts of Los Angeles is it's history, which it always seems to be trying to sweep under the rug as the city tries to reinvent itself daily or weekly with shinynewfacades and such. The truth is, L.A. has a great amount of history: colorful, storied, and widely varied to suit any interest, but Hollywood and it's parade of celebrities make all the noise and so receives all the attention. Swing by the Artists' Reception on November 10, 2012 from 4 – 6 P.M. and see another side of Los Angeles.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

In "Eclectic L.A." you'll also find work by these three fellers: Scott W. Prior, Tony Peters, and Alexander Orlov. The exhibition runs from November 10 - December 8, 2012.

Hollywood Reservoir, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

Hollywood Reservoir, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

Striking a Note: Sunset on the San Gabriel Mission Campanario , 12" x 12", © Eric Merrell

Striking a Note: Sunset on the San Gabriel Mission Campanario, 12" x 12", © Eric Merrell

CSU Summer Arts Workshop

July 11-15, 2011 - Representing the Figure: Drawing and Painting
I'll be one of four instructors this summer at CSU Fresno Summer Arts program presenting painting workshops along with F. Scott Hess, Yu Ji, and Samantha Minear.

Though the title focuses on the figure as a subject, we'll also be focusing on still life and landscape in my class. These workshops are open to anyone - you don't need to be enrolled in the CSU system to participate, and there are many opportunities for scholarships available.

For more info, click the image above for a larger version or click here.

Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice

A new book on color by Al Gury was just published by Watson-Guptill this last year. Al was one of my most influential teachers when I was studying back in Philadephia; he is currently the chair of the painting department at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts there. Titled "Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice," this is a very thorough book that should prove helpful for students and those artists just beginning their voyage into color exploration as well as interesting and thought-provoking for many who have been painting for years. (Here is another book that Al wrote a few years ago, this one on alla prima painting.)

This book covers a great range of topics including the history of color usage in art, how artists organize and conceptualize their color, and a whole lot more. I wouldn't be surprised at all is this became a staple in art classrooms.

There Is No Gray in Nature

An idea I hear tossed around fairly often about color is that while the morning and evening are great times to paint, during the middle of the day color "flattens out" or "dies." I would like to suggest something entirely different: the color does not go gray, it merely changes. The middle of the day has beautiful color just like any other time of the day, though it may be more subtle  than a sunset. Same with an overcast day (see Dan Pinkham's painting below). We can still see the relationships (and hence forms) in nature nonetheless, and since we as humans experience the world in full color (there is no such thing as a gray or neutral in nature's color spectrum, only in your paint tubes and color theory classes) I think it is a greater struggle to attempt to find these subtleties of color. Every plane change is a color change.

The issue I have with using terms like "gray," "brown," "neutral," "washed out," etc. is that it starts to get the brain thinking along those lines. Akin to shooting yourself in the foot before starting a race, you need your brain to make a painting - it makes it even harder to find, say, a quiet violet tone (like the top plane of the wrist in Bongart's painting above) if you're thinking of grays. Also, I think this is perpetuated by color being taught too literally, trying to "match" one's paint colors to that of the landscape or your model (see Delacroix quote below).

Here are a few other ideas about color:

- Every color note that is gray, muddy or chalky is a missed opportunity, and - Every missed opportunity detracts or weakens the overall color of a painting (think of an orchestra or band playing - what if the trumpet or guitar player hit just one sour note!); - When you put the final spots of color onto a piece, it should all come together and create the sensation of light.

The general conception of color seems to imply a high saturation or intensity; i.e., when I say "red," you automatically think of an incredibly bright red, like a sports car. But "red" could also mean a pale violet, made to feel like red by placing it next to a colder color. Look at that warmth in the shadow above in Hensche's still life (and how different it is from the red flower). Painting with color doesn't mean intensity at all - it means painting good relationships. Sorolla used a yellowish-orange to paint that little girl's back - but it relates to all the other colors and reads like sunlight. I think color painting in particular highlights how deficient language can be with describing our experiences. Another note about the images here, check out all the color used to convey "white" - they really aren't white at all, but every color under the sun.

Here are a couple of quotes that may help with the idea too:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” - Aldo Leopold

“Art begins where nature leaves off.” - Oscar Wilde

“Nature serves the artist as a dictionary only, and ‘Realism’ should be defined as the antithesis of art.” - Eugene Delacroix

The California Art Club's 99th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

Spaceship Landing, 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

Out Over the Desert (Key's View), 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

These two paintings from the Salton Sea and Joshua Tree National Park will be included in the upcoming 99th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition of the California Art Club at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, June 13 - July 3, 2010.  You'll be able to buy tickets to the June 12 Gala Reception (Sat., 6-9 p.m.) and preview the artwork online here when they become available.

Pasadena Museum of California Art 490 East Union Street Pasadena, CA 91101 626/568-3665

Big Sur

The Edge of the Sea_s The Edge of the Sea, Big Sur, 11" x 10", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

I recently sneaked away for a week of painting up in Big Sur, the absolutely amazing coastline between Monterey and San Luis Obispo. After a hasty packing and evening departure, I arrived in darkness and heavy fog just before midnight and set up my tent at the Kirk Creek Campground amidst a number of curious raccoons. I met artists Andrew Dickson and Joe Forkan at the campsite there, as they had arrived a few hours earlier and were already settled in. We painted up and down the coast, often just walking down to the water from the campground. I love the atmosphere there; it can go from a sunny afternoon to cloudy in minutes, with heavy fog banks rolling in off the coast. These are a few of the sketches from the trip.

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Windswept, 11" x 10", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

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The Sun's Mirror (Big Sur from Kirk Creek), 11" x 10", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Paintings from Joshua Tree

See more paintings and photos from the trip on Facebook. Roaring_Rock_s

The Roar of Time, 14" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

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Joshua Nocturne, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

Near_Desert_Hot_Springs_s

Near Desert Hot Springs, Afternoon, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Fallen_s

Fallen Joshua Tree, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

After_the_Storms_s

After the Storms, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Keys_View_s

Out Over the Desert, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

After_the_Fires_s

Fire Victims, 11" x 14", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

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Hidden Valley, 10" x 8", Oil on canvasboard, © Eric Merrell

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Lack of Shade, Midday, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Ending on a High Note in the Desert

Less_Traveled_s The Road Less Traveled, Joshua Tree, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Eric_DHS-s

As the end of the residency approaches, I'm trying to get in everything I wanted to work on. July was windy and then really hot, but August has been beautiful. Mostly in the 90's during the day and in the 70's at night. Just awesome. I wonder if this bodes badly for September? I've worked on broadening my approaches, trying some new things, exploring new places. I think I have some 70-odd paintings. (I haven't been able to shoot very many of them yet, but will at some point for a future post.)

Some of the best memories: out looking for a spot to paint the full moonlight, I stopped along the road in Lost Horse Valley. As I stood there in the moonlight, I started to notice a shape or two flitting about in the half-darkness: bats. Then I noticed a few more. After my eyes adjusted, although only a handful were ever visible at any given moment, you could sense the hundreds of bats flying all around you, sometimes only a foot away. I don't know if something with the moon brought out more bugs, or that they naturally congregate there, or something else. But it was so quiet, the only sound was of the approaching bats' clicking, echolocating, like the sounds of a few marbles bouncing quickly onto a tile floor.

My easel and umbrellas were quite battered by the winds, and knocked over a few times. One evening, though, in the lower Colorado desert, I set up to work about 20 feet to the side of a large wash. After painting a bit, I heard a noise like a car approaching in the distance. As it grew closer, the sound distinctly became the rushing wind, barreling down the mountains - straight through the wash. From my vantage, I could see the smoketrees and creosote in the wash straining under the onslaught; but the only thing that reached me was a nice cool breeze. As this tended to happen every so often, I grew accustomed to it and congratulated myself for being clever enough to avoid painting in the wash, my original intention. As I heard another gust approaching, I must have reached over to grab a tube of paint, or brush, or something - I don't recall what - but as soon as the wind hit the wash this time, it made a quick turn and blasted into the easel from the one weak spot. Though it was tied down, the easel was still thrown a few feet, and the palette skidded face-down across the sand, leaving streaks of yellow and orange on the desert floor. I decided to call it a day, and laughed while I cleaned everything up. Not much of the paint was salvageable.

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Southern_Desert_Horned_Lizard_s

I can't wait to return home now and sort through everything from the residency. Already have many ideas from the sketches and notes.

Meet Me in Long Beach

No More in a Moment-s No More in a Moment, 24" x 24", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

This painting will be part of a three-week long exhibition and auction, Art Auction 13: Nothing But Blue Skies, at the Long Beach Museum of Art, on view from September 4-19. The exhibition precedes the auction, which takes place on the 20th, proceeds going to benefit the museum. Some of the other artists I admire in the exhibition: John Budicin, F. Scott Hess (one of my teachers at Art Center), Tom Redfield and Michael Situ.

Always glad to support our local museums, and the Long Beach Museum of Art is situated in a great historic building right on the coast.

No More in a Moment_detail_s

Click on the detail above to see a some of the different textures in the piece.

Artist Residency in the High Desert

LunaMesa_s I recently learned that I've been selected for the Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency program, which will take place in July and August. We (I believe there are a few other artists, but not sure how many) are provided with a place to stay out in the rugged desert landscape, surrounded by cholla and jackrabbits, close by the National Park.

Although this time of year is super hot, I love the area and paint there often (and the houses have swamp coolers); this will allow me to really spend some time with the landscape and explore other places too. I hope to get back down to the Salton Sea again, and also to paint some desert moonrises. A moonrise over the Salton Sea would be spectacular! I'm thinking I'll need to organize my days to avoid the heat: up super early to work, hide out under some cacti during midday, and get back to painting when the sun drops a little lower in the sky. On the checklist: plenty of water and sunscreen, and of course umbrellas. The paintings below are from the Hidden Valley area of Joshua Tree National Park.

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Near and Far, Joshua Tree National Park, 24" x 20", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Renewed Confidence_s

Desert Sunset, Joshua Tree National Park, 16" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell, Private Collection

Beware of Fish Scapulas, etc.

salton-sea_s Spaceship Landing, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

I recently took a trip out to the Salton Sea to explore and paint with my friends Andrew Dickson and Samantha. Man, what a gorgeous place - but so inhospitable. Not the people, though; we met some very nice folks, including Leonard Knight who built Salvation Mountain. We checked out some of the small "towns" like Bombay Beach and Niland, really more like clusterings of houses and trailers, though Niland does have a Chinese restaurant. Quite a few abandoned places that have seen a lot of weather.

The Salton Sea is a very austere place, with no real amenities around. I wanted to paint something that spoke of the simple beauty and the harsh life that residents of the area endure and become a part of. 

The beaches are mostly made of old coral and fish bones, at least from what I saw there was hardly any sand, and the water doesn't look very inviting. Not the kind of beach you'd want to frolic at on the weekend (though it was a hugely popular destination in the 1950's.) We did hear a rumor that there may be a new attempt to fix up the sea, but the odds seem to be against that type of endeavor...

Bischoff's Bright Idea

This is the second article on the history of the California Art Club that I've researched and written, which will be published in the upcoming Winter 2009 issue of the California Art Club Newsletter. If you would like a hard copy of the Newsletter, let me know and I can get one to you. To see more of the history of the CAC that I've been researching, click here.

Bischoff’s Bright Idea

© By Eric J. Merrell

When the conversation turns to color, and continues on to the painting of flowers, the name of Franz Arthur Bischoff (1864-1929) is not far away. Born in Bohemia, he first traveled to Vienna to study art before immigrating to America in 1885.[1] In the United States, he began working as a china decorator in New York City before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then Fostoria, Ohio, continuing to work in the same vein. In 1892 he relocated to Michigan, where he produced ceramic work as well as taught china painting in Detroit and Dearborn. When he moved to Pasadena in 1906 he brought with him a reputation as one of the greatest china painters of his time.[2] In a few short years Bischoff would be rivaled only by Paul de Longpré (1855-1911) in his distinction as a floral artist.[3]

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Bischoff was a member of the Painters’ Club of Los Angeles (albeit a late joiner, becoming a member on September 7, 1909, a mere three months before that group disbanded[4]) and then an early and integral member of the new California Art Club, hosting club meetings at his studio in South Pasadena[5] and exhibiting extensively with them.[6] His personal sense of color is evident across the breadth of his work (he added landscape painting to his oeuvre upon his arrival in California[7]), as much a signature of authenticity as his own name.

Franz Bischoff in his studio; Courtesy The Irvine Museum

In 1911, a unique idea gave Bischoff further press and rippled through the art community. The Pasadena Daily News reported that Bischoff had come up with “something entirely new in the way of painting flowers.” He had painted a few new still life pieces - nothing new here - but his most recent floral paintings showcased “great California blooms with the glow of the electric light full upon them.”[8] The article goes on to credit Bischoff with originating the idea, and stimulating viewers’ thoughts with his three paintings of roses lit by an electric light. “…Those who have seen them declare that for illusiveness, delicacy and beauty, nothing can parallel them.” Some of these new paintings would be included in his upcoming fall exhibition.[9]

Post Script: As a way of illustrating how significant this idea was at the time, there is another story involving electric light, which comes from the Painters’ Club a few years earlier: William A. Matern (1867-1923), an Associate Member of the Painters’ Club, donated an electric bulb and shade to that group on February 2, 1909. It was motioned, seconded and unanimously carried to send him a thank you letter.[10] The Secretary, Martin Jacob Jackson (1871-1955) [11], suggested that the Club present Mr. Matern with an illuminated testimonial - Jackson to donate the work, and other members to contribute to the frame and materials.[12] Such was the importance of an electric light bulb to early 20th century artists.

[1] Edan Milton Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940, Third Edition, p.107

[2] Ibid., p.108

[3] Art and Artists, Pasadena Daily News, July 1, 1911, 8:1-2

[4] Minutes, The Painters’ Club of Los Angeles, September 7, 1909

[5] Antony Anderson, California Art Club, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1910

[6] California Art Club Annual Exhibitions (1911-12, 1915-19, 1921-26), and Spring Exhibitions (1917-19)

[7] Artists in California, loc. cit.

[8] Art and Artists, loc. cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Minutes, op. cit., February 2, 1909

[11] Ibid., December 1, 1908

[12] Ibid., February 2, 1909

"Paintapalooza" at Cape Cod Museum of Art, Addison Art Gallery

the-proximity-of-a-town-monhegan_s The Proximity of a Town, Monhegan, 12 1/2" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Happy New Year to everyone; a new year filled with Art, Music, Food, Family, and Gingerbread, all the good things in life and not necessarily in that order. We really are living in the best period of history, with lots to be thankful for. The gathering of artists at Port Clyde, Maine in September 2008 (see my previous posts about the trip here and here) will be the focus of two concurrent exhibitions on Cape Cod early this new year. The first, opening at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, will feature a painting from each of the artists and will run from January 17 – March 22, 2009 at the museum. A reception will be held on the evening of February 13.

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Anchored in Good Foundations, Port Clyde, 20" x 24", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell; Exhibited at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA.

The second part will be at Addison Art Gallery, with the opening reception on Saturday, February 14 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the gallery (President’s Day Weekend) and continuing through March 15, 2009. This exhibition will feature many more works from the twelve artists on the Maine trip. See the gallery’s page for the exhibition here, and click on the photos of the artists to see more of their artwork in the exhibition. Book your travel plans now, as there will be a lot of great art to see! Hope to see you there.

You can see a slideshow of the six paintings I will be sending for the exhibitions, online here.

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Eric Merrell and Glenn Dean, Monhegan Island, Maine, September 2008.

The California Art Club's 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

aspirations-of-man Aspirations of Man, 22" x 28", Oil on canvas, © Eric Merrell

You've probably noticed by now that I exhibit with and write quite a bit about the California Art Club. I first encountered the group sometime in spring 2000 when I took a term off from Art Center College of Design where I was enrolled (and later graduated in 2001). Luckily for me, there was a landscape class at ACCD at the time I was there, and I had a great time painting at all sorts of locations with Mike Hernandez (unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge and from a couple of first-hand accounts, there are no landscape classes there currently). I must have taken this class a couple of times as an independent study just to allow me time to work outdoors. Anyhow, I began to get involved and exhibit with the CAC before I left school and soon realized that many of my goals were paralleled by theirs. So, almost nine years later, I'm excited to announce that I've been elected to Artist Member of the California Art Club! Their idea of juried membership levels are loosely based on the National Academy of Design in New York City (fun fact - William Wendt (1865-1946), the 2nd and 4th President of the CAC, was elected as an Associate member of the National Academy [ANA] in 1912, the only member in Los Angeles at the time, but he never reached Full Academician [NA]). I've always thought that one of the best aspects of groups like these is the camaraderie one encounters, the myriad artists, gallery and museum directors, framers, historians, collectors, patrons, art lovers, etc.; it's an incredible network of people.

Along these lines, I've just learned that my painting Aspirations of Man has been accepted into the California Art Club's 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition, to be held at the Pasadena Museum of Art April 26-May 17, 2009. (See a history of the Gold Medal Exhibitions.) This piece is from a solo painting trip I took to France from September through December 2002, showing the 14th c. Pont Valentré at Cahors. It was really cold by the time I got to the city (I spent Thanksgiving there, which is somewhat depressing without friends and family, with only a Sandwich Americàin and a bottle of wine instead of a turkey...the "sandwich" consisted of a hamburger and two eggs stuffed inside a pita, topped off and overflowing with french fries(!)). I had bought myself a jacket by this point, since the warmest layer I had brought with me from home was a sweatshirt. Three months is just about the right amount of time to spend working alone, you really get to know yourself and only start to get homesick towards the very end. It was an awesome trip, and I ended up coming home with 60-70 sketches.

I keyed the painting really cold to strive for that crisp air and chilly wind. The type of weather that lets you know snow is coming.

Exhibition of California Landscape Paintings; LAAFA

pinkham-stillness Daniel W. Pinkham, Stillness, 36" x 30", Oil on board, © Daniel W. Pinkham; Exhibited at the George H. Maxwell House, Pasadena

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Peter Adams, Force of Light, 30" x 40", Oil on board, © Peter Adams; Exhibited at the George H. Maxwell House, Pasadena

If you happen to be in Pasadena with a little time to spare, check out the on-going (free) exhibition at the historic George H. Maxwell House, 55 South Grand Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91105 (Or, see a virtual tour of the rooms - my painting is in the "Library Room-The Bar"). Located literally two blocks from the Norton Simon Museum, the exhibition is comprised of about 20-25 paintings, including work by artists Peter AdamsKarl Dempwolf, Sharon Burkett KaiserStephen Mirich, Daniel W. PinkhamScott PriorMian Situ, and myself, to name a few of the artists. (Contact the California Art Club at 626/583-9009 beforehand to arrange access or a tour of the exhibition.)

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Searching for the Light, San Gabriel Mission, 18" x 24", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell; Exhibited at the George H. Maxwell House, Pasadena

Also, I want to give everyone an early heads-up for the Winter Semester at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art in Van Nuys, California. The next Landscape Painting Class begins Saturday, January 24, 2009. It runs for eight consecutive Saturdays. The class size is kept small, so students will receive plenty of individual instruction. 

In these classes you will learn how to paint what you see, not what you think you see. Learn how to interpret nature in terms of paint, using light and color to create form. Color relationships, design/composition, simplifying, and the benefits of painting on location will be discussed, as well as how to design and build a painting that carries an emotional impact. Make an investment in your art - gain confidence and knowledge that will inspire all areas of your creativity!

Call the school at 818/708-9232 to register.

Outdoor Still Life

Silver in Shade, 12" x 12", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Here are a couple of recent still life paintings done outdoors working in different qualities of light; overcast, full sun, shade. If you can find great color, you can paint in any light, on any type of day. Light doesn't become flat or dull - the quality of it is always changing throughout the day, but it is never uninteresting.  

 

Red Bowl and Oranges, 12" x 12", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

  

Sunflowers, 16" x 12", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Blues in Sunlight, 12" x 12", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell